This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Sep. 8, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20080908.php.
Basic Chianti, cheap and good
Just about as far back as I can remember (and maybe even before I was legally able to drink wine), inexpensive Chianti - in those days most often packed in a "fiasco" bottle in a wicker basket - was a mandatory element of a good Italian-American dinner.
Nowadays the wicker baskets are hard to find, although they're still made, usually wrapped around mass-market industrial wine, for the family-restaurant trade.
But even in the more classic proportions of the Bordeaux-style wine bottle that became the standard when Chianti started moving upscale in the 1970s and '80s, there's still a pool of modest, low-end Chianti out there. It's usually designated as simple "Chianti D.O.C." without any of that fancy "Classico" or "Riserva" stuff. And as long as you're not expecting an ethereal experience, it can still be quite palatable, and just as tasty as ever with spaghetti and meatballs, lasagne, pizza and other good things.
The other day, planning a simple late-summer dinner of Caprese salad (fresh sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, dressed with oil and vinegar and garlic and topped with plenty of fresh basil), I dropped by my neighborhood wine shop with cheap Chianti in mind.
Something called "Via Firenze" looked like it would fill the bill: A simple Chianti from the good 2005 vintage, it was tagged at a pre-inflationary price, just $7.99. The name ("The Way of Florence") struck me as one of those imaginary wineries created to foster a sense of romance. Sure enough, the wine proved to be of anonymous origin, bottled by a firm called C. Campagna Gello in Pisa, and imported to the U.S. by North Lake Wines, a division of the giant beverages conglomerate Constellation Wines.
Industrial stuff? Maybe. Still, at 8 bucks and bearing the Chianti DOC label, it was worth a try. As it turned out, it was simple but fresh, more than just palatable, a very good buy at the single-digit price. My tasting notes are below.
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"Via Firenze" 2005 Chianti ($7.99)
Clear ruby, with sunset glints of reddish-orange against the light. Black cherries and light spice, typical of Chianti, a bit on the shy side. More open on the palate, bright tart-cherry fruit and snappy acidity, with more than a touch of tannic astringency carrying into the finish. Nothing fancy, but as a Chianti should be, a fine food wine at an old-fashioned, rational 12% alcohol. U.S. importer: North Lake Wines, Madera, Calif. (Sept. 6, 2008)
FOOD MATCH: Modest Chianti is stereotypical with pasta in tomato sauce, and fine with red meat. This one made an appealing match with a meatless dinner salad, caprese made tricolor with red, yellow and green heirloom tomatoes. The wine married nicely with the fresh tomatoes and creamy fresh mozzarella, and it really sang with the fresh basil.
VALUE: I won't recommend a wine just because it's cheap, but in today's economy, a good, clean and balanced $8 table wine is a thing to treasure.
WHEN TO DRINK: A balanced Chianti will keep for a few years, but I'd drink up the modest bottlings early while waiting for their fancier brethren to age.
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